Madam Speaker Pro Tem: Jan Jones moving up state GOP ladder

April 14, 2011

Intelligence, drive, purpose fuel Jones’ rise to top echelon
by Hatcher Hurd
January 24, 2011

MILTON – As Jan Jones begins her fifth term in the state House of Representatives and second as speaker pro tempore, this businesswoman and mother of four has made a remarkably quick rise from community advocate to the fourth-highest elected position in the state.

Jones has made it her mission to steer her North Fulton community out of the clutches from what she saw as an uncaring at worst and incompetent county government based in Atlanta, which paid little heed to the needs and wishes of constituents so far removed.

She stood out to others as a leader in Milton. Karen Thurman, another community activist now serving on the Milton City Council, said Jones always impressed her as straightforward and businesslike.

“She always went in a direction because she thought it was the right thing to do, not because it might be the politically right thing,” Thurman said. “She clearly understood how to handle the political side of things, but she would have her mind made up first.”

George Ragsdale worked closely with Jones during Milton’s campaign for cityhood. He said what impressed him was how she delivered on everything she promised.

“She also has the ability to bring people to her view without any sort of strong-arm tactics. She has a way of capturing and retaining information and data, and then using and analyzing it to support her point of view,” Ragsdale said.

With a political base nurtured from her activism, she ran and won the 46th District House seat in 2002 in her first-ever political race, and has followed up with re-election four times.

She used a heady combination of native intelligence, laser focus, tremendous energy and bulldog determination to become one of the highest ranking women in state government and the second-ranking figure in the state House of Representatives.

Jones got noticed quickly down under the Gold Dome. In only her second term, she was named the first female majority whip in the House, managing 10 deputy whips and publishing a daily update on the status of action in the House.

“I think that got the attention of my colleagues,” Jones said. “I rented a condo near the Capitol and just camped out down here. When I get involved in something, I tend to become driven by it. And I know my way around a budget [she has an MBA in Finance from Georgia State University], so I could explain the details fairly clearly,” she said.

In her fourth term, her peers tapped her to replace outgoing Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter.

“It is one of only two elected posts in the House. I decided to run for it against six other men. After each vote, if no one gets a majority, the one with the fewest votes drops off the ballot. I won on the second ballot,” Jones said.

She said her work as majority whip gave her visibility, and so did budget analyses she would write for the members.

“So they knew me,” she said.

Of course, it did not hurt that she also spent time fundraising and campaigning for Republicans in other districts. But it also shows the confidence she retains from her peers.

Among her duties, Jones acts as one of the conferees on the budget, participates in choosing committee assignments and takes a lead role on issues where her expertise can lend a hand.

“But the job is defined in part by the person who sits in this office and by the speaker,” Jones said. “And we define our jobs to fit our strengths. The job has been pretty much what I expected. Mark [Burkhalter] was a friend and mentor to me, so I knew what to expect.”

Jones and Speaker David Ralston, the Blue Ridge attorney, have a good working relationship, she said.

“It has been more of a 24/7 job than I expected, but I like that. It’s not easy to turn off the switch and go home,” she said.

The role has thrust her on the statewide stage and has made her arguably one of the most powerful women in Georgia politics today. Asked if she feels like she has broken a “marble ceiling” down at the Capitol, she says no.

“I don’t think they look at gender in the House. They don’t care if you color your hair. It is all about the work and getting the job done,” Jones said.

But there were no guideposts for a woman in the House when she got there, Jones said. There were no role models. She was breaking ground for women as she went along in her career.

“I never met a female at a higher elected post when I came here,” she said. “When I was younger, it never occurred to me to run. I didn’t think I would see a woman in my position [speaker pro tem] during my tenure here.”

Now, it is a constant challenge, but it is the job she asked for, she said.

“This is truly a lifelong opportunity,” she said. “It is a chance to see my state from a different perspective and hopefully to make a difference.”